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Jeannette Rankin: This is No Time to be Polite

by Worldchanging LA local blogger, Jennifer Murphy:

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You can no more win a war than an earthquake.

So said Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to the US House of Representatives and the first female member of Congress. A new film about Rankin, A Single Woman, is in the final stages of completion and will be screened publicly for the first time this Saturday in Los Angeles. Sonali Kolhatkar interviewed the filmmakers Thursday on her KPFK program Uprising.

A Single Woman was first drafted as a one-woman show by Jeanmarie Simpson in 2004. It toured the country in grassroots performances for over two years. Simpson, artistic director of the Nevada Shakespeare Company, first discovered Rankin on Google. She says she knew within a few minutes of reading that "this was the character she'd been looking for her whole life."

"I'd never played a character like this before. Every word she said is something I wish I'd said."

Filmmaker Kamala Lopez-Dawson saw the play in New York and conceived the idea of creating a film using visual art and greenscreen technology to translate the live performance. The film will be released this summer in partnership with Heroica Films and Peace Path Pictures. It will be screened this Saturday at the home of Frank Dorrell, longtime local peace activist and publisher of Addicted to War.

There can be no compromise with war; it cannot be reformed or controlled; cannot be disciplined into decency or codified into common sense; for war is the slaughter of human beings, temporarily regarded as enemies, on as large a scale as possible.

Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, was elected on November 7, 1916. She ran on a platform of peace and women's rights, and against child labor. Just four days into her term, the House voted on the resolution to enter World War I. Rankin cast one of 50 votes against the resolution, earning her immediate vilification from the press. Suffrage groups even cancelled her speaking engagements. But she would not waver in her anti-war stance. "This is no time to be polite," she said.

In 1917, she opened the congressional debate on the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which became the 19th Amendment, granting women's right to vote in 1920.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she once again voted against entering a World War, the only member of Congress to do so, saying "As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. I vote 'NO.'" She believed that Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was denounced by the press and her colleagues, and barely escaped an angry mob.

She was founding Vice-President of the American Civil Liberties Union and a founding member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Jeanmarie Simpson says of Rankin "She learned out loud -- in public." She started out working within the system, achieving much but never succeeding in her goal of keeping the country out of a series of wars. By the Vietnam war era, she had taken to the streets. A fan of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, she led more than 5,000 women who called themselves "The Jeannette Rankin Brigade" to the United States Capitol to demonstrate their opposition to US involvement in that war. Rankin said "If we had 10,000 mothers willing to go to prison, we could end this war."

Rankin died at age 92 in 1973, bequeathing her property to help "mature, unemployed women workers." This was the seed money for the Jeannette Rankin Foundation that gives educational grants annually to low-income women all across the United States.

Jeannette Rankin's life is a little-known example of the power one person can have as a world changer. In this current time of war, her story is a resource and an inspiration.

The filmmakers are currently raising money to complete A Single Woman. They hope for a good showing at the film festivals this summer and to find a "distributor of note like Sony Pictures Classics." Many celebrities have contributed their voices and music to the film including Peter Coyote, Joni Mitchell and Judd Nelson (who will be at the Saturday screening). Other special guests include Jeanmarie Simpson, Kamala Lopez-Dawson, S. Brian Wilson, and Mimi Kennedy.

The screening is Saturday, March 31, at 7 pm at Frank & Jane Dorrel's home at 3967 Shedd Terrace in Culver City, 90232. They are asking for a donation of $20 at the door. Refreshments will be served. Call 310-838-8131 for reservations and directions.

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Thank you for the story on Jeannette Rankin. I agree that she is a little known example of integrity and valor. I wonder just how many women don't know about her, or so many other influential women of the past and present. I was just reading yesterday about the permanent installation of Judy Chicago's 'The Dinner Party' at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She covers something like 1034 women of influence in that project. Worth spreading the word about to young women who are unaware of their rich legacies as women. Also, it's affirming to learn more about Rankin's stance on war. I am reminded of the original Mother's Day Proclamation for Peace. More women need to make their voices heard, still. Thanks for spreading the word on the film, and on the woman.

Posted by: Michelle Riu on 1 Apr 07

What if most Americans shared her views on WWII and that war is unwinnable? Would we be writing here? I sure wouldn't, being of Jewish European descent. So personally, I think I - along with gay people, mentally or physically handicapped people, Black people and others the Nazis considered as subhuman - might find it hard to applaud Jeannette Rankin.

"She believed that Roosevelt had deliberately provoked the attack on Pearl Harbor" - uncanny.

Posted by: Blum on 1 Apr 07

That is an interesting perspective; I wonder if we traced the steps of history through wars, how many people would have died or survived, if all the attacked and oppressed were pacifists? Would the world be an evil place, dominated over the years by those who used physical force? Is it now...? But back on topic, I had never heard of Ms. Rankin before now. Thank you; I wish more historically important women were part of regular education, for children especially.

Posted by: hiroko on 1 Apr 07

Blum & hiroko,

While you have good reason to question her judgement on the wars, she should be respected for her great courage to dissent. Without these dissidents, opinions can completely tip over to the other side. We may end up with one evil nation fighting another evil nation.

Posted by: Wai Yip Tung on 3 Apr 07



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